THIRTY-FIVE attended the annual Socialist Party Summer School in Birmingham over the weekend of 6-8 July. The theme of the school was Protest. Janet Surman opened with a talk on the Arab Spring as seen from her ring-side seat in nearby Turkey. She observed that, despite employing some violence, the dictatorships in
Egypt and Tunisia had not been able to maintain themselves in the face of mass and essentially peaceful popular opposition.
Mike Foster described the increased, and increasing, powers that the police in this country have been given in recent years to deal with demonstrations including infiltrating protest groups. A discussion arose out of his description of last year’s riots as “mindless”. Some challenged this on the grounds that, whereas the riots certainly had no theoretical content or political programme, they were nevertheless a practical criticism of present-day society.
A similar theme came up in the discussion after Ian Barker, of Occupy Norwich, had described what happened there. Occupy, he said, had deliberately avoided making specific policy proposals; in Norwich they had merely drawn up a list of agreed general principles which an alternative society should embody. In his talk, Stair, from our East Anglia branch, said that the list though largely unobjectionable was far too vague, but at least a space for discussions had been provided; these were continuing at regular meetings at an indoor venue to which branch members were contributing.
Bill Martin spoke on the crowd scenes in Shakespeare’s Corialanus. Although Shakespeare’s depiction of the crowd as a fickle mob reflected the views of the propertied classes of the time, he had been obliged to put the opposing view if only to knock it down. Shakespeare owned land in Warwickshire and so must have been aware of the protests there in his day against enclosure of common land with crowds levelling the fences and digging the land.
In his talk Glenn Morris argued that, while protests against the pollution of the land, sea and air were justified, they would not get very far if they assumed that a solution could be found within the profit-driven capitalist system.
Meeting with Zeitgeist
On 22 July 40 people attended a meeting in Hammersmith, London, between the Socialist Party, as part of the World Socialist Movement, and the Zeitgeist Movement.
There was agreement that the only framework within which the main problems facing humanity could be solved was one where the resources of the Earth had become the common heritage of all and so wealth could be produced and distributed without the need for money.
We call it “world socialism”. ZM call it a “resource-based economy”. In the first session, on what was wrong with the present economic system, both speakers agreed that it had a built-in tendency to uncontrolled “growth” which was having a detrimental effect on the environment. Dick Field, for the Party, explained this tendency as being due to the competitive struggle for profits between capitalist firms leading to the accumulation of more and more capital out of the profits they extracted from the workforce. Franceso, for ZM, argued that it was due to the need to pay interest to banks on money they had created, the money to pay which could only be found by borrowing more from the banks; so we were debt-slaves. Although ZM did not advocate monetary reform to mitigate this, he personally was in favour of it as a transitional measure towards a money-free society.
In the discussion Party members challenged the view that banks had the power to create money out of thin air. In the second session, on how to get from here to there, Adam Buick, for the Party, said that a gradual evolution was not possible; there had to be a decisive and more or less rapid break with capitalism, to be brought about by the political action of the majority in society acting in their own interest. Steve Duffield, for ZM, said that ZM saw its role as to inform people of the situation, confident that they would see what the solution was. ZM was not a political party and did not advocate reformism or electoral action. People could begin to change things now by changing their lifestyle to rely less on money and consumerism.
In the discussion, ZM members challenged the view that the new society could be voted in. Party members replied that what was important was to have a majority in favour and that it would be foolish to try to change society while leaving political power in the hands of the minority who benefited from capitalism. The vote was merely a tool to use to win political control.